N i x T he next time you have some downtime at the sta- tion, engage your newest recruits in simple training exercises using a thermal imaging camera (TIC). Hands-on training conducted by an experienced firefighter at the firehouse is extremely valuable, especially
for our newest recruits. In addition to classroom training, engage in 15 to 30 minutes of TIC exercises two or
three times a month. Following are some examples.
Understanding that your TIC can only measure surface
temperature, not air temperature, is critical. In the the
kitchen, turn the burner on high on your gas stove and
position your TIC so the display is looking through the
flames. The flames are not being measured by your TIC
and therefore have very little effect on the temperature
being displayed. Now, place a cast iron frying pan on the
burner; your TIC will provide a temperature measurement because it has a surface to measure.
Firefighters need to be aware of how reflectivity can
impact temperature readings on a TIC as well. If you have
an electric stove, try covering one burner with aluminum
foil with the shiny side up. Turn on that burner and
another burner that is uncovered. Point your TIC at each.
The TIC will give you different temperature readings
because of the reflectivity of the aluminum foil. Reflectance is defined as the amount of heat bouncing off the
surface of an object. The more reflective the surface, the
less accurate the measurement on your TIC.
In the kitchen, grab an aluminum sauce pan and fill it
with water. Place it on your stove burner on high. Now,
grab a cast iron skillet and place it on a burner next to
your aluminum sauce pan. Turn both burners on and
wait for the water to boil and the sauce pan to heat up.
We know that water boils at 212°F. Point your TIC at the
side of your sauce pan and the temperature reading will
be below 212°F because of the reflectance of the outside
of the pan. The TIC is reading the reflected temperature
of the room, not the temperature of the pan.
Now use your TIC to look at the reflection of the
skillet on the side of the pan and you should see the
temperature (extreme white) of the skillet in the pan.
If you point your TIC to look at the pan where you
see the reflection of the skillet, your TIC will read the
temperature of the skillet in the reflection from the pan.
Your firefighters will most likely experience reflection in
a fire so they need to know how their TIC will interpret
this scenario. Glass, metals, wet surfaces like a tile floor,
concrete, and even brick can all trick firefighters into
misinterpreting the temperature of an object.
Most firefighters can identify heat patterns when looking at a large structural fire, but what about the smaller,
more subtle heat signatures? Firefighters need to be
trained to find the less than obvious heat signatures.
Place a space heater on the other side of a closed door.
Give the door several minutes to warm up. Have your
firefighters conduct a search and see if they recognize the
heat pattern prior to opening the door. Whether they
notice it or not, you can use this opportunity to talk about
the benefit of recognizing smaller heat sources. If you have
both solid core and hollow core doors in your station, set
up several space heaters to show the difference.
Use a TIC during hide and seek to scan the body heat
that’s being remitted from where someone has been hiding. The TIC can detect the heat source from a body that
has been leaning on the back of a couch or a handprint
on the side of a bed. Have your firefighters sit or lean on
the furniture in the firehouse. Ask them to use the TIC to
scan where they were to see the amount of body heat that
has been absorbed and is now being detected on the TIC.
This exercise is extremely valuable when performing
search and rescue. This latent thermal imaging effect can
help firefighters see signs of trapped victims before they
locate them. Firefighters may see latent thermal images
on furniture, beds, or walls that can indicate victims are
present. This drill can also train you for responding to car
accidents to determine how many victims were in the car.
Have you ever used hand warmers inside your gloves
when outdoors on a cold winter night? Grab one of those
hand warmers and activate it. Now use the TIC to show
your firefighters what it looks like on the display. Next,
grab a thick towel and cover the hand warmer. Now show
the firefighters the TIC display. This exercise shows
firefighters that when searching for victims on beds,
victims can be hard to detect because the warmer the
blanket is for people, the better insulator it is. The better
insulator the blanket is, the harder it is for a TIC to see.
This is a perfect example of why you should never
abandon basic firefighting skills when using a TIC.
Always search all beds using a gloved hand regardless of
what the TIC might be telling you.
Carl Nix is a 32-year veteran of the fire service and a retired battalion chief of the Grapevine (TX) Fire Department. He serves as an
adjunct instructor for North Central Texas College and a thermal
imaging instructor for Bullard. Nix has a bachelor of science degree
in fire administration and is a guest instructor for Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service’s (TEEX) annual fire training in Texas.
When You Have Downtime
Train on TICs in the fire station